Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell, is a fast-paced, personal narrative of a Navy Seal stationed in Afghanistan and a mission gone completely FUBAR. While not the best-writing I’ve ever read, Luttrell, with the assistance of Patrick Robinson, speaks with a clear, passionate and strong voice that is easy to read for hours-on-end. While many will be familiar with the movie of the same title, starring Mark Wahlberg, the book, by virtue of Luttrell’s narrative, is reminiscent of a captivating bar story. I can’t speak for the movie but the book was fascinating: the story itself was incredible but it was the insights into the war in the Middle East, life as a Navy Seal and the perspective of a man in service to his country that kept me reading.
Last February, a close friend of mine had finished a three-year contract teaching here in Andong, South Korea. He’s Canadian but is engaged to a British woman and the two of them were off to Birmingham, England. A week before their departure, his mom and older brother came out from Nova Scotia to help him pack up. His brother served in Afghanistan with the Canadian Army as an improvised explosive device (IED) technician. My buddy had told me that his older brother had seen some firefights and a lot of other “action” during his service.
Nobody in my extended family nor social circle has served in or near a war zone and having grown up in the post-9/11 era I was really intrigued in his experience. I have my own opinions about the war but that doesn’t alter the fact that it happened or that he served in it. Leaving my own politics at the door, so to speak, he was kind enough to share some of his stories with me. I was captivated: he was a natural-born storyteller and he maintained an upbeat and ultra-friendly demeanor that I admire so much in his younger brother. After an evening of beers, stories and a good laugh or two at my buddy’s expense, he recommended that I read Love Survivor. He said that while the writing wasn’t all the great, it would give me a more lengthy insight into what serving in Afghanistan is like.
The closest understanding I have to service comes from my experience in the Peace Corps in the Philippines which, admittedly, is ridiculously lacking in commonality with serving one’s country in the armed services in a war zone. While talking with my friend’s older brother opened my eyes, Luttrell’s own story increasingly introduced elements of his experience in a depth and manner that I really appreciated. In fact, his story inspired a lot more empathy for the experience of the soldier than I had anticipated.
A good opinion is an opinion made complex by the consideration of many perspectives and that is exactly what this book helped me to develop: a more complete, complex and complementary understanding of the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan. I can’t say that my own opinions of the conflict have changed much but my sympathy for the servicemen and women has been heightened to a new sensitivity. Call me naive but I feel I have a better understanding of the mentality and motivation it takes to become a soldier. They did not want a war, no more than I did. They did, however, answer the call to serve their country as best they knew, with which I can completely identify. Talking to my friend’s older brother and reading Luttrell’s account of his experience in Afghanistan has changed my mind substantially. I’ve gone from being critical of the armed services out of ignorance of the men and women who serve in it to feeling like an ally, an advocate and a part of a support system for when they come home. They do not ask to go to war. They simply answer in call of service to their country, which ever direction it may take them.
I really enjoyed the book but more so, I am appreciative to have the book supplement my conversation with my friend’s older brother. That conversation and the book gave me room to grow, encouraging that I leave my preconceived and years-old opinions behind and give me a chance to enrich my opinions about our soldiers and their services.
If there were only one thing I could say after reading Lone Survivor, it would be this: thank God the Navy Seals are on our side.
Pages: 390 Total FoA Pages: 39,906